By electing Hassan Rowhani, the moderate candidate, to be its next president, the Iranian people have in effect reached a provisional compromise with the nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the ultraconservative establishment.
At first glance, Rowhani's landslide victory might seem baffling. Why should an otherwise subordinate and overly cautious candidate, who was once Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, generate so much enthusiasm and support among a beleaguered public? Rowhani largely kept out of the postelection upheavals in 2009, and his campaign platform did not offer anything remotely resembling a reformist agenda. To the extent that he challenged any establishment views, his criticisms and proposals were mainly directed against the irascible style and tactless temperament of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an easy target.
Given these apparent paradoxes, it would seem that Rowhani's decisive victory is owed to the absence of any meaningful alternatives. Indeed, the regime's Orwellian vetting body, the Guardian Council, went out of its way this time around to ensure a tame field of candidates, a soporific roster of former and current technocrats. Most notably, and with tacit acquiescence of the supreme leader, the Guardian Council rendered ineligible one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (it also barred Ahmadinejad's handpicked candidate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei), seemingly leaving Rowhani as the most palatable choice.